Is fish poo the key to feeding the world’s growing population?

Feeding a growing world population is one of the greatest challenges society faces – and fish poo could be the answer, according to a group of students at the University of Sheffield.

Fish farm

A team of second year undergraduates have today (8 June 2016) opened a Resilience Food Farm on campus, combining fish farming and vegetable growing – using waste from the fish as a fertiliser.

The fish will produce ammonia, which is translated into nitrates by beneficial bacteria. The plants then suck the nitrates out of the water and the clean water goes back to the fish. The process is known as aquaponics, combining hydroponics (growing vegetables in water) and aquaculture (growing fish).

The students will grow leafy greens such as chard, lettuce, rocket and sorrel, and experiment with broad beans, strawberries and leeks, to test the aquaponics system as a method for producing sustainable food for the future.

MediumThe project is part of a pioneering initiative by the University where second year students from across all Faculties came together to explore the challenges the world will face as the population reaches 10 billion.

“We need to grow food in more places – for example, in the nooks and crannies of cities and towns,” said Professor Hamish Cunningham, who is leading the aquaponics project.

“The more we can meet our basic needs like food and energy in our local communities, the more resilient those communities become – and the less scarce the resources we use in the process, the more sustainable our lifestyles become.”

Aquaponics is a high density, low-impact agricultural method of creating clean food sustainably which may be seen as a positive alternative to mass production, factory farming and air miles.

As part of their work, the students will also assess what will work best in the UK’s climate and what costs are involved in building and running this kind of system.

The project gives undergraduates the chance to work alongside students from other disciplines to develop potential solutions for a range of real-life global problems.

It gives all students at the University the opportunity to extend their academic and personal development by combining research-informed subject knowledge with wider transferable skills, professional competence, cultural agility and real world engagement.

Professor Wyn Morgan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at the University of Sheffield, said: “Collaboration across different disciplines is a really important way of getting an understanding of a common problem.

“The notion that a single discipline has the answer to a particular problem is not right – we need to take different views from different disciplines to get a full and complete picture of the problem, and how to solve it.”

Watch 'Saving the world...with fish poo' for more about the Aquaponics: Resilience Food Farm project:

Watch video on YouTube

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2016 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046
h.postles@sheffield.ac.uk